Pro-fashion, anti-ex-boyfriends and ready to become the next big thing, folk and soul singer Lianne La Havas just can’t stop sharing her innermost thoughts with the world. It’s a formula that has carried her to the brink of major league success. She tells Roe McDermott about her high-heeled journey towards the top.
Roe McDermott, 03 Apr 2012
But it was when she was in her late teens that she met a musical group of friends that inspired her to take up the guitar. Taking art “as a back-up plan”, her new posse “introduced me to all this electronic music I’d never heard, and I started playing guitar and it was enticing. I felt the guitar more than the piano. I started writing more personal things, because I was inspired. And I made a lot of friends – and enemies,” she adds.
Oh, do tell?
“Well, basically a lot of my songs are about someone I was with at that time. He was actually my drummer for a short period of time, and ‘Forget’ is about him.”
Does he know?
“Oh, he knows! But he’s very forthcoming in admitting that he treated me badly and respects my need to express myself through music.”
Your lyrics say, “Spend all your time writing love songs/but you don’t love me.” He must have written songs for you too then?
“Well, he says he did, but I think that they were about a few girls!”
We’re glad you’re shot of him, so.
“So am I!”
However he did do one thing right, as it was this bad boy that helped La Havas record some demos and put them on MySpace, where she was discovered at 19. And after working as a backing singer for Paloma Faith for 18 months, she was finally signed as a solo artist by Warner Bros. But – perhaps having learned from her experience with pushy men – La Havas wasn’t intimidated by the label, and fought them when they wanted to change her style.
“With ‘Forget’, I first recorded it with David Sitek from TV On The Radio and we did a version that had a lot of his sound on it. Because I was on a development deal with the American Warner Bros., it seemed like it wasn’t what they thought I should sound like. I refused not to play it, and would always play it live. And the version that’s going to be on the album is one that me and my producer Matt Hales [from Aqualung] worked on, taking the vocal takes of Dave’s version and creating a version that shows how my sound has developed. And I’m so proud of it, because the sentiment of the song is important to me. I’m glad I dug my heels in!”
Lianne admits that Warner Bros.’ less than enthusiastic response rattled her.
“I was thrown, because I was excited about it and their reaction wasn’t great. So I got very down, I was writing a lot of stuff I wasn’t happy with, wasn’t playing the guitar, and I think I was also too comfortable in my relationship. I don’t think artists always have to be in pain to write good music, but you do need to feel whatever you’re feeling strongly – happiness, hurt, whatever. You need to have passion and I didn’t.”
But one sure-fire way to get out of a funk? Have Californian lo-fi beat junkie Shlohmo remix some of your songs.
“I love the ‘Forget’ remix! It’s so cool seeing him put his spin on it, it’s all edgy and ethereal. It’s a pity I haven’t met him, I’d thank him! It’s great that people are blogging about it and bringing my stuff to a new audience, so I’m well happy with that.”
More than Schlohmo though, La Havas credits Matt Hales for her success, likening their first encounter to (musical) love at first sight.
“The process of finding a producer and songwriting partner is bizarre, it’s like being on a blind date where you’re hoping to have a baby with them!” she laughs. “I met Matt three years ago and he was the first person I ever wrote with. It was the most fulfilling experience, and we’re now great friends because of it. Which I think has to be the case. Because it’s such a personal thing – for me, anyway - to write a song, to say what’s deep in your heart. So I think we were so lucky to have met each other that day and I’m so proud of our baby, the album!”